Tanner Morgan learned a valuable lesson about patience vs. South Dakota State last week.
In the first quarter, the Gophers sophomore quarterback tried threading a pass to double-covered receiver Rashod Bateman. It was intercepted.
“I’ve just got to wait for the second window or move on,” Morgan said. “… I thought I could get it in right there with [the safety’s] shoulders turned, but he made a great play.”
Morgan, though, said Tuesday he’s learned from that mistake, as he and the Gophers prepare for Saturday night’s visit to Fresno State. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, agreed, saying Morgan now knows he “can’t touch the stove.”
That oopsie happened early, but evaluating the rest of Morgan’s game shows one of his strongest suits: Responding well to adversity. Morgan completed 13 of 18 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown. Of those incompletions, two were drops and one was a throwaway. Fleck said Morgan had one missed post down the field when he had open receivers. But the coach can understand how Morgan’s eyes wandered because the protection broke down, forcing Morgan to scurry.
Fleck said he was impressed with Morgan’s game management, especially since this was his first time starting a season opener.
“He kept his composure. He was Tanner,” Fleck said. “… Made some big plays. Did a great job of getting out of the pocket when he needed to get out of the pocket, stepped up in the pocket when he needed to step up in the pocket. Made really accurate throws where guys could catch and run with it. Very decisive decisions.”
Morgan’s mobility was on full display in the fourth quarter, when he broke out on a 14-yard run. That made up the bulk of his 22 rushing yards on five attempts.
Fleck said no one would look at the 6-foot, 215-pound Morgan and think he’s a running quarterback. But he is a quarterback who can run, which is an important distinction. Morgan might only bring that skill out once or twice in a game, but the one he did against South Dakota State was “perfect,” according to his coach.
“When he runs, it’s an effective run,” Fleck said. “I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of big design runs, a quarterback power, quarterback counter, those types of things for him. But he’s effective enough. And he’s smart enough to be able to understand his reads and when he should pull it and when he should get it.”
Morgan said on his run, the Gophers checked to a new play after South Dakota State shifted its front. From there, it was just enacting something the team had practiced again and again in training camp.
“It’s something that we worked a lot in the offseason because we weren’t good enough at it last year of extending the ride and being able to keep those,” Morgan said. “And I felt like [the defender] was charging at Rodney [Smith, running back] so I kept it. Almost tripped and fell. I thought he was going to end up taking me. But no, it ended up being an open lane and got a first down.”
Another learning moment for Morgan, he said, was not letting the adrenaline drive him in those moments and making sure he gets down if he can’t make a move on his tackler.
The Gophers lacked a rushing dynamic to the QB position last year, but Morgan also added another facet to his game: Catching. He caught a two-point conversion trick play, when Smith took the snap and handed it off to receiver Tyler Johnson for the pass to Morgan in the end zone.
“He looked like all the receivers out there,” Bateman said after the game. “… It was fun to see him catch a touchdown pass.”
In all, Fleck assessed while Morgan didn’t play his best, he did play well. And for Week 1, that’s a start.